Industry Leader: Truck Driver Shortage Not Surprising

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ATA Anticipates 1.1 Million Truckers Needed Over Next 10 Years

By Clint Thompson

The truck driver shortage in the U.S. that is disrupting vegetable and specialty crop operations and causing increased freight costs is not a surprise to one industry leader. It just came to light during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Tra Williams, owner and president of FleetForce Truck Driving School in Winter Haven, Florida.

“That shortage has been around about 20 years. No one knew about it until they started looking for toilet paper last March. The trucking industry has been experiencing that decline year over year since the late 90s,” Williams said. “It’s already built into the supply chain, so folks just didn’t realize that that’s what was happening.

“The pandemic increased that demand significantly, disrupted the amount of people that could go to the store and get things on their own. It just revealed this systemic problem at a household level.”

Major Shortage

Williams said that 1,200 truck drivers retire every week, equating to 5,000 per month and 60,000 per year. There are not enough entry level drivers entering the industry to replace those retirees. He estimates there is a shortage of between 80,000 and 100,000 truck drivers. But that number will only increase over the next decade.

“That represents less than one year’s demand for the next 10 years. ATA, the American Trucker’s Association, anticipates 1.1 million truckers being needed over the next 10 years. That’s 110,000 a year. That’s 350 a day,” Williams said. “It’s an enormous number. It’s been accumulating for about a decade now. Honestly, it’s something that should have been addressed at the industry level a decade ago.

“Down here in Florida, freight for agriculture is a huge thing. Everybody knows the crops that are coming out of the Southeast. Those are a challenge for all of us. That’s part of putting food on our table. We might be known for oranges in Florida, but there’s a whole lot of agriculture that comes out of this state that isn’t oranges. Those drivers are crucial to all of America.”

Florida represents 25% of the national need. About 27,000 additional workers a year is needed in Florida for the next five years.

“I get why that number’s that way. We’re the third most populous state. We’re the fastest growing; third largest economy. I get it, but still that’s a long road to hoe,” Williams said.

The industry has increased wages steadily to entice potential drivers. Williams said the average salary in Florida is around $78,000 per year.